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“Don’t read all the responses to your tweets, it can be demoralizing” With Mimi Rocah, NBC News and MSNBC Contributor

We are in a very confusing moment right now, where our laws and norms are being tested every day. I am grateful to have a platform from…


We are in a very confusing moment right now, where our laws and norms are being tested every day. I am grateful to have a platform from which to help explain to the general public what is and is not normal or acceptable under the law and our traditions of institutional independence.


As a part of our series of interviews with NBC News and MSNBC’s legal contributors who are critical to NBC News’ coverage heading into midterms, I had the pleasure to interview Miriam E. Rocah (Mimi). Mimi was an Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of New York from February 2001 until October 2017. As an AUSA, Ms. Rocah successfully prosecuted and tried numerous cases including several high profile Organized Crime cases. During her career in the SDNY, Ms. Rocah held a number of leadership positions including, most recently, Co-Chief of the White Plains Division, a position she held from April 2012 until she left the Office in October 2017. In addition to supervising cases in the White Plains Division, Ms. Rocah also served as primary liaison with law enforcement agencies and other prosecutorial offices on matters relating to the White Plains Division and coordinated and co-chaired multi-county task forces on specific issues such as human trafficking. As a prosecutor, Ms. Rocah was the recipient of numerous Department of Justice awards, most recently, the 2016 Women In Federal Law Enforcement Leadership Award. Currently, Ms. Rocah is the first Distinguished Criminal Justice Fellow at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, where she teaches and organizes and headlines conferences and symposiums on current criminal justice topics. Ms. Rocah is a regular legal commentator for the RNN/Fios Cable Network and has appeared on Fox and written opinion pieces for publication.


Thank you so much for joining us Mimi! Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your law career?

I was going to talk about one of the more humorous encounters I had as a federal prosecutor — like my heated run-in with Victoria Gotti, mom of John Gotti Jr., in the courtroom when I was prosecuting him in 2006 (https://nypost.com/2006/09/26/ma-gotti-hit-for-outburst), or the time I was trapped in the witness security room in a federal prison with a mob cooperator I was debriefing during a prison “lockdown” for hours. But, the truth is, the job of a prosecutor is fun, but serious. So, instead, I will tell you about the most “interesting” period of my career which surrounded the events of September 11, 2001.

I had been working in the Southern District of New York United States Attorney’s Office (SDNY) for just a few months on 9/11. I took the subway to lower Manhattan to my stop at Church and Chambers Street, just blocks from the World Trade Center. Like many, I remember so many details from that day, like the suit I was wearing and what I was reading on the subway. As I came up the subway station stairs, I saw a crowd of people looking up at something that I could not see. They had a look on their faces that I had never seen in real life before, only in movies. At the top of the stairs I saw that they were staring at holes on fire in the twin towers. I later learned that this was just minutes after the second plane hit. I instinctively walked toward the SDNY building where people were streaming out. I saw buildings being evacuated everywhere, including children from a federal daycare center. I walked with several colleagues many blocks to an apartment, getting frequent updates on our office beepers — some true and some false — about other supposed planes and attacks. We eventually watched on TV as the towers collapsed and then walked more miles home that night- shaken, scared, horrified and sad. Within just a few days (I think it was two), I was part of a crew of a handful of people who were allowed to go past the police barricades of lower Manhattan and into the SDNY building to help “man” the office. The office, like the air all around lower Manhattan, was smokey and smelled like burning metal. We walked around the office with masks over our faces. We listened to an old-fashioned radio for updates. We wrote subpoenas and did paperwork for other prosecutors and agents who were in a command center set up elsewhere in Manhattan who were helping to trace the steps of the hijackers and learn if there were other terrorists in our midst. Like so many of my colleagues, and people all around the country, this time, more than any other, filled me with fear and sadness but also pride and purpose to be able to work even a very small bit on helping our country during that time. Many of us were asked to help man a family center that had been set up at the Jacob Javits Center for families from all over the world of victims who had died on September 11th at the WTC. Meeting with family members there was one of the most difficult things I have ever done in my life but I was so proud to be able to do it. All in all, this period strengthened my commitment and dedication to being a federal prosecutor for the next 16 years.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

This is my second year as a Criminal Justice Fellow at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law. Last year, as part of this position, we had two fantastic conferences of which I am very proud. One was a conference that focused on sex trafficking of minors and the internet, which is something I worked on a lot as a federal prosecutor. The conference brought together academics, state and federal prosecutors, first responders, and victim advocates as well as media, and members of the community for a unique approach to this problem which many people don’t realize is a real threat in all of our communities and to all young people. I am currently planning another conference centered on human trafficking in the Spring. This is something about which I am very passionate.


What are some of the most interesting cases you have been involved in? Can you share any stories?

Much of my career as a federal prosecutor was spent prosecuting traditional Italian organized crime cases — La Cosa Nostra or the Mafia. One mob case I worked on for several years, involved several different generations of the Genovese Crime Family, from young drug dealers to old-time mobsters like Liborio Bellomo, one of the leaders of the Family, who was charged with having ordered the murder of Ralph Coppolla, a Genovese Capo. One of the main cooperating witnesses in that case was an elderly lawyer, Peter Peluso, who agreed to cooperate against his friends and long-time associates in the Genovese Family after essentially working to help them shield many of their crimes from law enforcement for many years. We were able to use ground-breaking investigative techniques in that investigation like roving court-authorized wiretaps (which is a fancy way of saying that the wiretap followed the targets around instead of just staying in one place like a room where they commonly meet) and other listening devices in many of the hangouts of the Mafia members. While there were entertaining moments in these Mafia cases, (like their nicknames — Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, Ralph “the Undertaker” Balsamo,” Jackie “the Nose” D”Amico, “Vinny Ocean” Palermo, and “Frankie the Beast,”) the danger and seriousness of this way of life was also real. When FBI Agents and local law enforcement went to arrest one Genovese associate, Christopher “Chunk” Londonio, at this home, he fired at the agents who would have been killed but for the bullet proof vests they were wearing. Londonio was killed in return fire.

With the recent Kavanaugh hearings and the ongoing Mueller investigation, what’s it been like covering this news climate from a legal perspective for NBC News and MSNBC?

It’s been an exciting challenge. Legal training encourages analyzing legal issues by weighing one side and then the other and waiting to take a position until every detail has been explored and investigated. I think it’s a good thing for the country that people are so hungry to learn and understand the complex legal issues that are so prominent in the news right now and so the challenge as an Legal Analyst on TV is to break it down, make it understandable for people without a law degree and take reasonable positions without getting too far ahead of the facts as we know them.

Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?

My own mom went to medical school in the 1950s when there were only a handful of women in a class of hundreds and the professor would look over their head and say “good morning gentlemen.” Given that, I have always admired women in history who were trail blazers in their fields because they had to do things without a road map, largely with men as their mentors but finding their own way and style. Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman on the Supreme Court, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg the second female Justice and a leader in the fight for equality for women are two well-known examples. A less well known, but important woman, Mary Jo White was the first (and only) woman United States Attorney to lead the Southern District of New York.

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in law, like you?

A law degree is wonderful vehicle because there is such a variety of things you can do with it. Being a lawyer means 100 different things depending on the path you take. You can work as a prosecutor, or a defense attorney, work in the area of civil rights, environmental law, entertainment, or sports law, to name just a few examples. The important thing is to find something you love and try and do some good with it in the world.

If you had the ability to make three reforms in our judicial/legal system, which three would you start with? Why?

Bail reform, more alternatives to incarceration for individuals with addiction or mental health issues, strengthen re-entry programs for people released from prison. There are so many needed reforms but a combination of strengthening these three would at once better protect the public and reduce unnecessary incarceration and get help to people who need it.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We are in a very confusing moment right now, where our laws and norms are being tested every day. I am grateful to have a platform from which to help explain to the general public what is and is not normal or acceptable under the law and our traditions of institutional independence.

I know this is not an easy job. What drives you?

Being a prosecutor was a hard job in some ways — long hours, very unglamorous working conditions in buildings that literally were falling apart, had bed bugs and asbestos. But, no one in the SDNY ever (or at least rarely) complained. We were excited to go to work every single day and relished what felt like a higher purpose — to try and do the right thing, the fair thing and the just thing, no matter how hard. Working for and with people committed to that is what inspired me every day and still does.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

I was fortunate to have fantastic mentors and advisors when I started working as a prosecutor in 2001. People gave me great advice, including to stay in the job as long as I could because it would be one of the best jobs I would ever have. They were right and I did. When I started working as a legal analyst on TV, I did not have so many mentors to go to.

  • Looking back, I wish someone had told me to always start an answer to a question with a definitive statement;
  • take reasonable positions even while weighing both sides;
  • don’t read all the responses to your tweets because it can be demoralizing; turn off the news once a week and take a mental break
  • and, most of all, I wish someone had shown me where exactly to look at the camera!

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Michelle Obama — because she epitomizes a strong, successful woman (who is a lawyer) who handles fire and pressure with such grace and poise, Aly Raisman because her strength and persistence in the Larry Nassar abuse scandal

Originally published at medium.com

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